LA’s Gay Past: This is LGBT History, Told in Six Landmarks

Written by | Lifestyle

Circis of Books Documentary

Los Angeles is full of landmarks from LGBT History — many of which paved the way but are no longer with us.

Long after their doors were shuttered and replaced by a Starbucks or trendy boutique, memories linger on. What if you could go back in time, like a gay Indiana Jones and excavate bygone Los Angeles and retrace the footprints of our queer forebears?

Many of these places and landmarks became safe spaces for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. They were venues to congregate and cruise, to organize and support one another, and maybe even find a soul mate. has done extensive research to unearth LGBTQ history in one user-friendly site. On it, you’ll find an interactive map that identifies a variety of establishments that represented our collective past. Let’s walk down memory lane and explore a few of these notable gay haunts:

The LGBT History in Circus of Books (1960-2019)

No list of “gone but not forgotten” gay landmarks would be complete without acknowledging this literal mom and pop-owned bookstore/porn purveyor immortalized in the 2019 Outfest Opening Night documentary Circus of Books.

There were once two locations in Los Angeles; the Silver Lake location closed in 2016 and the West Hollywood location closed just last February. The film, produced and directed by Rachel Mason, the daughter of the owners, offers an intimate look at how this adorably average middle-aged couple wound up becoming one of the biggest distributors of gay porn in the United States.

More Content from Metrosource

Their unconventional family business provided for a growing family, but also exacted a human toll that required them to keep the specifics of their professional lives on the DL. Their business nearly ended in criminal prosecution after the owners were targeted in the Reagan administration’s porn crackdown. With the passage of time and changing social mores, the Masons were vindicated and looked upon as early pioneers in the fight to protect First Amendment rights.

To learn more about Circus of Books, read When Porn Is the Family Business? Make a Doc about It.

The LGBT History of the Friendship (1938-2005)

Ahoy, sailor! Who can forget this chill nautically-themed gay bar (also known as the S.S. Friendship) designed to resemble a ship? The nightspot was just across the Pacific Coast Highway from the gay-friendly stretch of beach known as Ginger Rogers beach. This casual watering hole offered a less conspicuous alternative to the splashier gayborhood of WeHo. The Friendship was a place where you could relax in relative anonymity. It had the friendly ambience of “Cheers” but, unlike the popular sitcom, this was a place where nobody had to know your name if you preferred some privacy while you figured things out.

The LGBT History of the Spike Bar (1978-2009)

This no-frills joint was the place to get some action back in the day. With its heavy cruising vibe, the late night crowd got down and dirty as the music thrummed along. There was often a line outside if you didn’t arrive before 11 pm. But once inside, the place was packed with strangers’ bodies pressed together in ways that would make a TSA pat-down expert blush.

Spike is currently memorialized in an exhibition at the Central Library which features matchbooks from long-vanished gay venues that collectively serve as a time capsule of days gone by. Spike was subject to periodic unannounced inspections by the local Fire Department — housed just across the street. While it wasn’t always clear whether they were inspected for overcrowding, the unexpected arrival of hot firemen amidst a mosh pit of horny gay men was, for the most part, a welcome intrusion.

Black Cat Lounge LA

The Black Cat Lounge, circa 2019.

The Black Cat Tavern (1966-1967)

Before Stonewall, there was The Black Cat Tavern. This spot was precursor to the rising tide of resistance by queer patrons against mistreatment by local law enforcement. In 1967, the Black Cat was the site of one of the first demonstrations in the country protesting police harassment of LGBTQ people. It preceded the Stonewall riots by more than two years. Contrary to popular lore, there was no actual “riot” at the Black Cat, but some 200 protesters staged a civil demonstration against the raids on February 11, 1967. After operating as a gay bar under several names, the current owners cater to a general clientele but resurrected the name as an homage to its unique history and display numerous photographs inside from their storied past.

Read Next | These Are 10 Gay Memes That Will Make You LOL

The LGBT History of A Different Light Bookstore (1979-2011)

Founded in 1979 by Norman Laurila and George Leigh, A Different Light Bookstore was a chain of four bookstores. There were three in California and one in New York. All catered to the gay and lesbian community.

The original mission statement had a primary goal of making LGBTQ literature as widely available as possible at a time when mainstream access was extremely limited, or nonexistent. The LA store was located in the heart of boystown and sandwiched between Revolver and Mickey’s. A venerated WeHo institution, the bookstore was a beacon for the erudite, although there was also a section dedicated to X-rated magazines as well.

Regular book signings and discussions with LGBTQ authors were commonplace and provided a platform for gay writers and readers. Prominent participants included such literary luminaries as Armistead Maupin, Christopher Isherwood, William Burroughs, David Hockney and Paul Monette. ADL could also be a little cruisy for those seeking a momentary thrill to accompany their cerebral stimulation.

The LGBT History of Drake’s Bookstore (1980-2007)

Nestled in the heart of Melrose’s eclectic BoHo district, this “bookstore” was not much more than a sex store.

In the days before the internet made porn readily available, certain establishments offered private booths where patrons could deposit coins to watch porn per minute. It wasn’t high production value, but there were different channels available, so if you didn’t like what was playing on the screen, there were straight and gay options. But the meter was always running and you’d have to keep feeding the slot to keep the videos playing.

Before you knew it, you’d gone through a pocketful of quarters — or so I’ve been told. Drake’s was hit with its share of police raids and trumped-up zoning ordinance violations. But the owners fought back challenging what they argued were an infringement on their rights to free speech.

Want Metrosource LGBTQ content notifications? Sign up for MetroEspresso.

sexy weho bartender
Read Next | The Best Gay Bars in WeHo

Last modified: December 4, 2019